Who the hell is Mad Mike?
I’m from New Zealand, Auckland. I grew up with my mom – no brothers, no sisters just a big dream to take on the world’s best. All the women in my family had horses so I got dragged out to the farms on the weekend, every weekend. At the age of six I was given an old clapped-out dirt bike by my mum. She had no idea how to operate it, fix it or ride it so I kind of had to figure it out as I went along, so I’m kind of self-taught, the story of my whole career in fact. I raced motocross, got good results, second place in New Zealand. Racing was getting too expensive, replacing clutch plates, tyres and all that stuff. I saw the Crusty Demons of Dirt daredevil movement and joined them, started breaking many bones, told I was paralysed for the rest of my life from my T7 vertebrate down, fractured more vertebrae and ruptured discs and all that. Right about the same time I discovered drifting, that was 2006.
The drift bug bit then?
When I was 13, I had a clapped out Mazda 323, my first car in which I slapped in a rotary engine. So the rotary engine is something I know since my childhood and not just in Mazdas, also in old Toyota Corollas, put 12A rotaries in them all. Through all those motocross years I was still learning lots about car control. While my friends were out getting drunk and doing drugs and so on as teenagers do and party, we would go into the bush and sleep in the car. Me and my buddy Mark, he’d started racing production world rally so yeah its cool but yeah, both our careers was race driving and stuff, our passions were the same since we were young. We stopped spending our money on cigarettes, and alcohol and started to spend money on cars.
After that big crash in 2006, we chased our dream, went to America and built a drift car after we discovered the sport of drifting. Those Japanese, crazy drifters and characters personalities – that’s what drew us in. After freestyle motocross (FMX) I still didn’t have a big budget so it wasn’t like I could buy a Dodge Viper and just go head-to-head with these guys in America. But there were RX7s and we had all this knowledge about rotary engines so we put this car together and the sport, well – it’s more about the drive, the whole package you know? And that’s what I love about the sport of drifting, that it’s so diverse and easy for youngsters to get into. And it’s my career. It’s what I do now. To make a dollar.
When did it get real?
My first drift car was an RX7 that we bought in New Zealand. My first year competing, I came second in my second event beating out top competitors in New Zealand. And then my third event was D1GP, that’s an elite Japanese drift competition that came out to NZ for a driver search, to qualify for the big USA vs Japan event in 2007. The top four drivers would receive a licence to enter into the Irwindale, USA leg of competition. , So I was like, I had to finish in the top four, I just had to and I finished fourth. Like I said, that was my third event out in the car. That’s what fuelled my fire, people were like “rotaries are gonna blow up!” because it was a sport dominated by Nissans. We built this car, and in New Zealand we suffer a bad tall poppy syndrome so people told me yeah, just because I could flip my dirt bikes and do this and do that I couldn’t necessarily compete… but guess what, that’s what gave me the passion to succeed. So that year we finished fourth in D1GP, nothing funded, but I got this piece of plastic, the D1GP licence which entitled me an entry into this USA vs JPN event in California. We were into that season of New Zealand’s inaugural national drift championship (D1NZ) and I was in 2nd place going into the final round and looked like I could have taken it, but I had this piece of plastic. And the dream of going to America. Most of my sponsors at that time were the ones I gained from FMX and I spoke to them about it, saying hey we’ve had long relationships and they said look, you’ll make the right decision. Because do I stay in NZ and get this title? Or go overseas and do this thing – I mean maybe this was a once in a lifetime experience for me since I got this invite? (Ed – it wasn’t!) So, I made a lot of promises, managed to beg, steal and borrow from a lot of people, worked some ridiculous hours, sold a lot of stuff and put my car into a container and got it to The States. I got up there and killed it, finishing in the top 16 – the only international driver there other than the Japanese. And with it really set the Mad Mike name in stone in the drifting community. From there it was Formula Drift USA, then we went to Asia, Singapore for the first ever international leg in 2008, qualified first and finished 3rd overall. I got home to an email from Red Bull saying “come and talk money, welcome to the family.”
Every year just goes by so fast. We’re working on the biggest championship, next drift record or craziest event but at the same time always thinking ahead because you want to be a leader you also want to think ahead. What’s happening next year? We revealed the MX5 for the next championship but also already planning what’s next, a hill climb or like with the RedBull Drift Shifters event, that’s something I’m, very proud of and we want to grow it into an international event. Not much time to sleep because I’m always dreaming of what’s next.
Yeah I can’t rule out Pike’s Peak although I’d probably go through a set of tyres and we’ll need a refuel halfway up you know? As I grow older I’m looking at different avenues to push the sport, at Formula One, V8 Supercars, Goodwood Festival of Speed – some very credible events, and to very different demographic of audiences that don’t usually get to see the sport of drifting. There’s this misconception in the media, a news presenter would say a kid going around and around roundabouts, and kills someone on the side of the street, was drifting. We drift at well over 200kph, judge with millimetre precision from concrete walls and barriers, and that gets us respect amongst world champions of top tier motorsport.
Do you think your FMX background has helped you transition?
Yeah, I’d definitely say that for drifting, a kid that’s grown up doing motocross will be a far superior drifter to one who has grown up on go-karts. Conversely now I find circuit racing easy because of my drifting background, the transition, weight balance, traction and all that stuff. Motocross was definitely a massive help.
What would you do if you stopped drifting?
I’d mentor for my son to be the next best thing on four wheels. He wants to race everything with a motor. There’s something we want to launch new in New Zealand and that’s sort of like driver tuition. It’s not drift school as such, but also social media and proposals and there’s no scripted way of doing it, but what we’ve done and what we’ve succeeded to prove is that even from a small country like New Zealand and with next to no budget, you can be just as important as anyone else. I read a lot in America, interviews and so on, about how 99% of those successful in motorsport have rich families, or they’re already established within the sport. But of course, that wasn’t true for me.
PHOTO BY Desmond Louw